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Wiki-Paranoia ~ PART II: Newsgroup Trolls, Gays and Patrollers

By E. A. Barbour

(See also Wiki-Paranoia Part I)

Another piece of the Wikipedia puzzle is the role of Usenet newsgroups in the evolution of “wiki-culture”. Usenet was one of the earliest features of the Internet, popular long before it was all opened to the public in 1994. Newsgroups served as “bulletin boards” before the World Wide Web was invented. Since they were usually hosted on university servers and passed freely from node to node, they gained the same libertine culture as the hacker underground. In the late 1990s, use (and abuse) of Usenet for file sharing exploded, and anyone who wanted to push a minority, obscure, or “crank” point of view could usually find a home on a related newsgroup. It became a central point for protests against the Church of Scientology, since it was difficult to attack using attorneys and court orders. Before backbone servers and ISPs started blocking or disabling Usenet in the 2000s (claiming that it was “dying” anyway), it was the place to be for hardcore trolls. The case for keeping Usenet alive was not helped by the terabytes of regular pornography, child pornography, pirated movies, pirated music, garbage advertising, and “warez”, or pirated commercial software, available on special newsgroups. Usenet carried everything, good or bad. It was wasteful, it was “open”, and it was a mess. And trolls enjoyed a field day thereon.

No wonder Jimmy Wales was attracted to it. Starting in 1992, he was a regular on an Ayn Rand mailing list and in the newsgroup alt.philosophy.objectivism. That was where he first met Larry Sanger and Tim Shell. In February 1996, a new group was started, humanities.philosophy.objectivism, and Jimbo was made one of the moderators. Late 1996 was a banner time, as the traffic on Jimbo’s favorite newsgroup ramped up just when

…continue reading Wiki-Paranoia ~ PART II: Newsgroup Trolls, Gays and Patrollers

Female editors growing scarce at Wikipedia

By Gregory Kohs

Sue Gardner in conversation with the notorious Derrick Coetzee

In 2010, Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner bemoaned the fact that only 13 percent of Wikipedia’s contributing editors were women. She blogged about it, she chimed in on discussions on the Foundation’s mailing list, and even The New York Times reported on it, which spawned at least a dozen other news outlets mirroring the story.

Sue Gardner made it one of her top priorities to get more women writing those Wikipedia articles, setting a goal to raise their share from 13 percent to 25 percent, by the year 2015. And the Wikimedia Foundation funded Gardner in part to complete that objective with a personal compensation package of $240,159 (in fiscal 2010). So, it has to be very disheartening for Ms. Gardner to learn that a more recent study finds that her efforts apparently are pushing Wikipedia’s female community in the wrong direction — now, only 9 percent of Wikipedia’s editors happen to be women.

What might be causing Gardner’s important initiative to fail like this? We spoke with a few experts to try to gain some perspective on Gardner’s challenge and her tactics.

Linda Steiner is Professor and Director of Research and Doctoral Studies at the University of Maryland’s school of Journalism. She studies the impact of gender in news and media organizations and in reporting. She notes:

“Wikipedia has a reputation for being a kind of wild West, attracting cowboys — with a decided preference for shoot-em-ups. That is, the Wikipedia culture seems a masculine environment, dominated by men, especially white men, who don’t mind debate and ad hominem attacks,

…continue reading Female editors growing scarce at Wikipedia

Wikipedia needs to abandon ADAM

By Andreas Kolbe

Wikipedia contains over half a million biographies of living persons, for people ranging from Barack Obama to local shopkeepers. Yet the core editors whose job it is to ensure that all of these biographies comply with Wikipedia policies number only a few thousand. And while the number of biographies rises daily, editor retention rates in Wikipedia are currently plummeting. (The slide showing editor retention data is known within the Wikimedia Foundation as the “Holy Shit slide”.)

Biographies of major figures like a US President are usually fairly well watched over, and in quite good shape. But for little watched biographies at the other end of the notability spectrum covered by Wikipedia, things look very different.

What happens with minor biographies is that they are often only frequented by anonymous people who have a dislike for the biography subject, or at any rate have neither the interest nor the writing skills to produce a balanced biography. Such contributors will typically add derogatory information – sometimes true, sometimes not – or random stuff they read and found “interesting”.

The results are not pretty – 50 per cent of a journalist’s biography about an argument he had with Mitt Romney? Or take this addition to the “free encyclopedia”, made by an anonymous person wishing to be known as just “Shylocksboy”: “Jayne Middlemiss called Titmuss ‘a big, fat slag’ because of her flirting with Sharpe, whom Middlemiss had an eye on.”





These examples are typical of the anonymous dirt accretion method (ADAM) of biography writing. It results in biographies whose actual biographical content becomes overwhelmed by tangential material inserted by anonymous people with a

…continue reading Wikipedia needs to abandon ADAM